© 1999 Karen Dickinson
"What is spoiled or omitted at this age cannot be put right later on. In these years man's future is decided practically for his whole lifetime."
- Zoltan Kodály
Music is not a gift or a talent, but a language that can be learned by anyone capable of attention, awareness and memory. Many parents have asked me what is the best age and developmental stage for a small child to begin instrumental lessons. There will always be debate on the best age to begin learning a specific instrument, but carefully planned music classes can introduce the child to the language of music and make a significant contribution to other areas of learning. Other parents have told me that they would love their children to be "musical". I strongly believe that music is a language and as such can be learned. If we do not speak to our children, they will not learn how to talk - if we make music with our children, they will not only learn that it is something which we personally value, but also learn skills that will help them throughout their lives. All children have the capacity to be musical if exposed to musical opportunities.
Playing Big Drum Music classes, in which a group of children meet together with their caregivers, provide many opportunities for personal and social development. Children need to know how to work, play, co-operate with others and function in a group beyond the family. In the classes, children learn to take turns and share while music making. They also learn respect for the musical "toys" (the instruments). Singing and performing simple pieces within the mutually supportive group builds up self-esteem. Music encourages this co-operation with others and builds individual confidence.
The knowledge of a wide range of songs is beneficial to language development as children expand their vocabulary when words are reinforced by simple actions. The pre-school child can listen and respond to stories, songs, nursery rhymes and poems. Music can also be used effectively to build story-making skills: the child might create a story suggested by listening to a piece of music or may create a song that tells a story in direct response to a picture or event. When the beginnings of notation are introduced a child can see that music is also organised in the same way as her reading books, reading from left to right and from top to bottom.
Math skills and the sequence of number are reinforced by number rhymes, songs, stories and counting games. Also, mathematical and musical language is often very similar, (e.g. "crescendo" is when the sound gets "bigger than" and is represented by the same sign; similarly "decrescendo" and "smaller than" share the same symbol and meaning). I have found that children as young as three can easily grasp these concepts. Children also become familiar with divisions of a beat when rhythms are introduced.
Music can also play a significant role in teaching us an understanding of the world in which we live through songs and stories from other cultures. Through exposure to diverse music, children develop an awareness of how others create and participate in music.
Learning to play any instrument, including percussion, with a certain degree of control develops physical and manipulative skills. Finger rhymes and action songs also give plenty of opportunity for refining motor skills and co-ordination. When moving to music in an eurhythmic way, children develop co-ordination and an awareness of space and others.
Music is most often cited as being of importance in the area of creative development. Children can develop the ability to use their imagination, to listen and to observe through art, music, dance, stories and imaginative play. The use of music as a channel for the emotions is one of the most quoted reasons for the importance of music in education.
The pre-school years are a critical period for learning and a strong foundation for later achievement can be laid in these early years. The advantages of carefully planned musical opportunities are both social and musical, enhancing and supporting learning in other subjects and making an important contribution to a child's early education.